Human Resource Professionals Try To Decide How To Handle Medical Marijuana In The Workplace

Posted March 29, 2019 by Mary McGinley

The majority of states across the US have approved the legalization of the use of cannabis in some form, or they are preparing to do so in the near future.  In an article by Joanne Deschenaux which appeared on the SHRM website, that still-contentious issue is now creating challenges for HR professionals.  According to federal statutes, marijuana or cannabis is still considered a controlled substance and is therefore illegal. Currently, 33 states have approved cannabis for medical use only while just 10 so far have approved it for recreational use.

Earlier this week, SHRM hosted its Society for Human Resource Management Employment Law & Legislative Conference in Alexandria, Virginia. One of the speakers at the event, Lauraine Bifulco, President of Vantaggio HR said that there is an erroneous notion in the workplace which allows those who have been approved for and who carry a medical marijuana identification card (MMID), to be under its influence even while on the job.

“This is wrong,” Bifulco said during her presentation. Employers are not legally required to accommodate workers who do use marijuana, even for medical purposes. Further, there are legal considerations for those businesses that do allow it.

Currently, 13 states have passed legislation which prohibits employers from discriminating against workers who have an MMID card – even if a company has a strict drug-free policy in place. Federal law still says that marijuana use is illegal, regardless of what state statues may have been passed. Because of the prohibition at the federal level, the ADA or Americans with Disabilities Act does not include any mention of legalized cannabis use.

When asked whether an employer can fire a worker who has an MMID card, Bifulco, said, “Maybe.”

For the consideration of those organizations that are currently dealing with the issue, Bifulco cited some statistics at the beginning of her presentation:

  • There are now 1.2 million authorized users of cannabis or marijuana in the United States.
  • In the workplace, researchers have indicated that employees who used marijuana had an absenteeism rate of 75% higher than those who did not use the substance.
  • Employees who used cannabis were responsible for 55% more industrial accidents and had 85% more injuries on the job than those workers who tested negative for the use of the substance.

While cannabis use has become widely more accepted within our society, employers and HR professionals are still have many things to consider which surrounds the issue of marijuana use by workers.